by Cassie Walker
Jessa Brinkmeyer grew up on a farm in Nebraska. So when she compares the nascent eco-fashion industry to the early days of the organic food movement, there’s conviction in her voice. “Organic food didn’t just take off,” she says, describing how a friend’s all-organic restaurant failed in the early 1990s. “It’s going to take time for people to understand what eco-fashion is and why it’s important to create a demand for it.”
Brinkmeyer’s campaign started in the fall of 2007, when, at 24, she opened the city’s first eco-fashion boutique. With Pivot, she saw an opportunity to combat the business’s dark side, from the pesticides used to grow traditional fibers to the laundry list of chemicals associated with synthetic fabrics. There was plenty of bad—but it wasn’t clear which products were good: It wasn’t until 2002 that “organic” became an official USDA designation for food; nothing comparable exists for green fashion.
The lack of an official eco-fashion “seal” has led Brinkmeyer to become her own detective. She visits designers’ production facilities (she buys mostly U.S.- or Canadian-made lines), studies fabrics (she prefers natural fibers such as organic cotton and hemp), and researches details such as dyes (she favors low-impact or natural dyes). For Brinkmeyer, tracing each garment to its roots has been a crucial part of the learning process—and what she learns, she passes on. “It’s about far more than selling organic cotton T-shirts,” she says. “I want to share ideas and further the green lifestyle.”
Since opening Pivot, Brinkmeyer has had to counteract eco-fashion’s ugly stereotype. “People have images of hemp sacks, and clothes you can smoke,” she says. And indeed, there are no hemp sacks in her boutique at 1101 West Fulton Market. Instead, hanging from her racks are funky tops from Stewart + Brown, slimming denim from Good Society, and a covetable black dress from the Chicago designer Lara Miller.
An enthusiastic supporter of local talent, Brinkmeyer last October assembled a pop-up museum dedicated to sustainable designers. Called the Museum of Sustainable Style, or MoSS for short, the four-day guerrilla project showed the range of Chicago fashion and furniture design. But Brinkmeyer also saw it as a way to gather like-minded people in one room and spur innovation. “I want to change perspectives," she says—hence her boutique’s name, Pivot, a word that’s also a subtle nod to her farming roots. A pivot is a piece of equipment used for irrigation, and as Brinkmeyer knows, it takes only a little water to make something grow.
Photograph: Erika Dufour
Pillow Top Dress, Frei Designs, $364, available at Pivot